Stick With "This Is Where I Leave You" Review

You can't believe how much I hate you right now.

Is it comforting or accusatory to say that something is exactly what you expect it to be? Going into This Is Where I Leave You (2014), you might hope that all of that wonderful charm promised in the trailer would be backed up by the same spirit and originality your imagination created for it. Deep down, though, you know that there's a marathon of tropes on the way and the only real question is whether this family has the spark of reality that is going to make those tropes new. Mixed bag. Everything in the trailer is in the film and it's just as lovely as can be, but there isn't enough of a gentle ramping up into those feel-good moments so much as a thundering crash as they wallop and leave you in hit-and-run fashion. But if anybody's going to hit-and-run me, I hope I'm lucky enough to be hit-and-ran on by Jason Bateman.

Old man Altman has died and the atheist's dying wish was that his kids sat shiva for him. That's seven days over which this dysfunctional family has to sit very near to each other and quite low to the ground. Worse luck, lead child Judd (Jason Bateman) has very recently--in screentime--walked in on his wife in flagrante delicto with his boss. Sister/daughter Wendy (Tina Fey) is in a troubled marriage of her own--dramatic content summarizable on the back of a cocktail napkin--but is sturdy, funny, and probably has an alcohol problem. Then there's Paul (Corey Stoll) who took over the family store and is trying to have a baby with Annie (Kathryn Hahn). Ah yes, lastly is the baby mess Phillip (Adam Driver). You've met Phillip. The oversexed matriarch (Jane Fonda) rounds out the quintet of dysfunction with giant fake breasts and very little of substance to add in the way of public mourning.

While nobody says "this is where I leave you", somebody absolutely should have said "haven't I been here before?" This is Where I Leave You is tightly packed and requires the script to resort to some squirm-inducing, on-the-nose dialogue and a rash of tears. In the division of labor, they loaded Driver with the moral lessons--you know because he's the screw up--and Fey with the tears. It isn't that the actors are failing the material, it's that there isn't a chance to catch your breath and get the hit these emotional scenes or little wisdoms intend. That said, the movie is quite funny. Jason Bateman plays a prickly-but-lovable lead better than most. [I'm thinking of The Switch (2010).] There were also a number of moments where Bateman was conspicuously excellent in dramatic moments. His easy ability to tap into melancholic pathos makes him a comic force but could also, as here, be used for more tender resonance. Add a sprinkle of Rose Byrne as a wafer-thin personality with a great smile and we are in business!

Like the recently passed holidays, it really only took some tinsel, Bing Crosby, and family to make you feel better than you had any reason to be. This is Where I Leave You works exactly the same way and in close parallel with your capacity to look at that skin-deep nostalgia and call it warmth. Tell you what, though, This is Where I Leave You looked better and had a stronger soundtrack than my decked halls. In all seriousness, this couldn't have been better. At least so far as sight and sound are concerned. It might have packed its plots more neatly so that each resolution didn't pop out at the slightest provocation, but at least it looked crisp and clean.

Bonus features

"Points of Departure" is a series of overproduced featurettes about the actors and production, "Gospel According to Rabbi Boner" is similar, Deleted Scenes, and "The Narrative Voice", the commentary track and the discussion by the same name with Shawn Levy (director) and Jonathan Tropper (writer of the book and screenplay).

"This Is Where I Leave You" is on sale December 16, 2014 and is rated R. Comedy. Directed by Shawn Levy. Written by Jonathan Tropper. Starring Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Jason Bateman, Rose Byrne, Tina Fey.

Jan
20
2015
Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.

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